Learning from Great Teachers

by | Feb 15, 2018

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Ms. Ann Wegand (now Thomason). Ms. Wegand was my third-grade teacher, and I adored her. She was one of the nicest, kindest, and loving teachers, knowing exactly how to connect with each student. Her room was so much fun, with a stuffed reading couch area, posters, pictures, and games. Nine-year-old Tim was full of energy, super competitive, fairly smart, with a pretty sharp tongue. There was a lot of good in me, but sometimes it was masked with an inappropriate humor, usually at the expense of someone else. Needless to say, it wasn’t one of my better qualities, and it needed to be dealt with.  

Every year, Ms. Wegand gave an award to the most-caring student. I forget the exact name of the award, but basically, it signified a student displaying gentleman-like qualities, a man of honor, and someone who served others with a pure heart. The year before, Bryan Goodyk won the award and this year, I wanted that award. All year long, I had this award in my sights, opening doors for people, intentionally being nice and courteous, and doing my best to put others’ needs before myself.

Then, with about a month before summer vacation, we were doing partner math problems and I was assigned to work with another student, one who struggled with math. It was during this time, in front of the class, I said something inappropriate about my partner’s inability in math. It was an attempt to be funny and witty, but it was just hurtful. Ms. Wegand called me out immediately, and I could tell she was visibly upset with me. I apologized, but the damage had been done. At the end of the year, I got some award (every child did), but it wasn’t the most-caring student award. No one in the class received the award that year. With tears, I came to Ms. Wegand after class. She explained to me that she loved me and I had all this potential, but I needed to control my tongue. Message received, loud and clear, by nine-year-old me.

“She held a higher expectation of me and even though it was really painful, this was the way to get through to me.”

In John 8: 2-11, Jesus was teaching in the temple and the Pharisees brought him a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees wanted justice, as the Law of Moses commanded that such women be stoned to death. Jesus, being the ultimate teacher He was, bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. Some scholars believe Jesus started to write sins of the Pharisees in the dirt, with them obviously seeing what he was writing. When they kept questioning him, He stood up straight and said to them, “Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (verse 7) He then bent down and kept writing, most likely more sins the Pharisees had committed. One-by-one, the Pharisees left. After all had left but the woman, Jesus straightened up and asked the woman if anyone had condemned her. No one had. He then said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (verse 11)

Jesus and Ms. Wegand were in the business of transforming lives, and they did it through teaching. Both understood the law of loving people where they are at. I knew Ms. Wegand loved me as a student. There was no doubt in my mind she wanted what was best for me and because of this love, I wanted to do what she asked. Jesus connected with his followers in the same way, leading with love. He started with compassion for the adulteress woman, who rightfully could have been stoned to death. But this kind of love isn’t a wishy-washy, do-whatever-you-want type of love. Ms. Wegand needed to get through to me about my tongue. She held a higher expectation of me and even though it was really painful, this was the way to get through to me. Jesus gave the woman her life back, but at the same time, commanded her to go and leave her life of sin. Jesus is basically telling her this is where you are at and I love you as you are, but this is where you can go and it is better.

“We first hold the belief, then we hold the belief together, and finally, they hold the belief on their own. That is transformation. That is love.”

Every day in Haiti, we incorporate this same type of love with the families we walk with in relationship. We first love them where they are. Through our actions, they see modeled the concept of “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Life is hard for them, and they’ve been dealt a more difficult hand. We love them anyway. At the same time, we hold a dream for them they don’t even see themselves. We believe their children can thrive, above the malnutrition line, learning to read, write, and problem solve, instilling the skills needed to create the life God has planned for them. We believe the parents are children of God, made with a purpose, and they have the ability to be productive stewards in God’s creation. With love, we walk with the parents and hold this belief for them, until they can hold this same belief for themselves. We first hold the belief, then we hold the belief together, and finally, they hold the belief on their own. That is transformation. That is love.

Many Hands for Haiti stands on the shoulders of teachers like Ms. Ann Wegand, who love people where they are and at the same time, hold a belief of what they can become. A few months ago, I ran into Ms. Wegand, after not seeing her for over 25 years. I told her she changed my life, thanked her for the way she taught me, and what an important role she played in creating who I am today. With tears streaming down her face, she hugged me deeply and said, “You don’t know how much that means to me.” Our dream is 25 years from now, we have children and parents in Haiti express the same thing to us, whether it be in this life or in Heaven.

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